Best Short Narrative Film
Best Feature Documentary
Best Short Documentary
The Boston Asian American Film Festival is pleased to finally announce the Audience Awards. These awards are given out based on what the audience decided was their favorite films in the following categories. We will also have a few words about upcoming projects the respective filmmakers are working on.
BAAFF caught up with Jennifer Kroot, Director of To Be Takei, on her experience making the acclaimed documentary.
BAAFF: How did you get connected to George Takei?
Kroot: You know, like a lot of people, I was always a fan of Star Trek. Then as George became an LGBT activist and he started making more appearances where he spoke about his personal struggle, I just became charmed and intrigued. Here was a man who came out later in life, and really embraced it. I had already read his autobiography and just became sort of obsessed with his life! I had previously made a documentary and so I wrote his agent, who just happened to be a fan of my previous feature, and I was forwarded to George and Brad (his husband). Then over about six months, we had a lot of back and forth discussing how to do the documentary.
BAAFF: How long did you film for?
Kroot: We filmed for over two and a half years. There were big gaps during that time, of course, but it did take a long time to orchestrate who to interview, events to attend, and all during that time their lives continued to accelorate. Geroge is even more in demand now than while we were filming! He's always traveling to engagements and events. And during the downtime he and Brad has, they're always going on walks and keeping busy together. Such an interesting personal dynamic between those two.
BAAFF: You previously read his autobiography. Did his struggles as an Asian in America surprise you in any way?
Kroot: What George wen through as an Asian American in Hollywood at the time was hard, no doubt about it. There were almost no leading man roles for Asians. It's gotten better, but there are still much fewer roles out there for Asian actors. You still are often asked to do an accent. Sometimes, that makes sense, the world is obviously international, but sometimes it doesn't. I think today George is beyond that now since he's an icon, but he's an actor and he still wants to pursue roles that challenge him. That's why he was a part of the all-Asian musical [Allegiance: A New American Musical] which he struggled to get funding for. People don't want to bet money on a new thing.
BAAFF: What do you think George's key to success and endurance is?
Kroot: He's just relentless. He's in his late seventies and still relentless! I wish I could get some of whatever he's on. George is a very positive person. I know people assume that, but he's really like that in real life. From fans to a random cab driver, he always has a "yes" attitude and is open with his positive life advice. That voice is just in him. I believe he got that from his father; being in concentration camps, you have to make the best of things in every situation; that's the Japanese concpet of gaman which means "enduring with dignity." Then later, when your situation changes, you fight injustice and move forward. Having been in both a literal and society prison in his life, when he came out of both, he never looked back.
BAAFF: What do you think is the message that came out of this documentary?
Kroot: I mean, it would have been impossible to tell a story about George that didn't include his positivity. Also, you get the sense that your ability to do good and affect change in the world is never over. Even when you're older, you can choose to still be engaged and still make positive impacts. There's a lot of darkness in the world, and it's so great to see someone like him. It's also great to see his relationship with Brad, which has endured over 25 years.
BAAFF: Best iteration of Star Trek. Go.
Kroot: Original series, of course! As for the films, George was a captain in the sixth movie, but I really like the fourth one. I mean, it's in San Francisco (where I live!), there's an environmental message, and it's a funny film.
BAAFF: What projects are you working on next?
Kroot: I have a couple things in development, but I don't want to jinx them by talking about it!
Thanks Jennifer! We look forward to whatever you are working on next!
Please help BAAFF continue to bring amazing events and people, such as George and Brad Takei, to Boston by donating to our non-profit festival!
By Arick Wong
Directed by Steven J. Kung, A Leading Man follows the life of GQ Qi (Jack Yang), an aspiring Asian American actor, as he navigates the Hollywood movie industry. GQ receives an offer to play a Chinese exchange student on a television sitcom only to realize later his character is distasteful and staggeringly offensive. During the first rehearsal, GQ challenges Mitch Lebowitz (Bruno Oliver), the executive producer, on his blatant tokenism of the foreign exchange student stereotype. Lebowitz immediately fires GQ, and he is escorted off the production site. In attempt to salvage his career, GQ begins dating Lebowitz’s casting director Rachel Cohen (Heather Hazur).
The relationship between Qi and Cohen faces objection by Qi’s traditional Chinese family, particularly his mother. Kung introduces an additional financial strain, as GQ is unable to find other acting roles and Lebowitz fires Cohen for dating Qi. Frustrated with their career mishaps, Qi admits to Cohen that if she were not a casting director, they would not be dating. Despite his desire to play developed, well-rounded characters, Qi’s vapid personality and malicious intent proves him undeserving of these roles.
A Leading Man acts as Kung’s polemic on the Asian American identity in film. GQ is a talented actor with degrees from prestigious theatre institutions, yet he is unable to perform in a major production without being pigeonholed as an Asian American stereotype. The opening casting scene illuminates the struggles of Asian American actors. GQ introduces himself articulately in his casting interview, but during his audition he must speak in broken English about bootleg Louie Vitton purses. In this scene, Leibowitz criticizes Qi’s accent as being “too white,” and Cohen translates this statement, telling Qi that they are looking for a “generic” Asian accent.
The film also comments on Asian American’s perceptions on the film industry, as GQ’s family is unsupportive of his acting career. Qi’s grandmother criticizes him for not being a Harvard graduate and wasting his time pursuing theatre. Qi’s mother becomes disillusioned with his career, as she finally meets Cohen and blames her for Qi’s lack of acting roles.
Overall, A Leading Man implores us to consider the Asian American in theatre—what compromises must one make to become a “successful” Asian American actor and what hurdles must Asian Americans overcome to succeed in today’s film industry?
Mance media will release A Leading Man for video on demand on Friday, November 21, 2014. Watch A Leading Man now using iTunes, Google Play, the Sony Entertainment Network, or Xbox Video.
BAAFF caught up with Emmy & Golden Globe nominated actress Tina Chen, star of Descendants of the Past, Ancestors of the Future about her experience with this year's Boston Asian American Film Festival and her thoughts on film.
BAAFF: What was your experience like at this year’s BAAFF? What keeps you coming back?
CHEN: My experience this year at BAAFF was terrific. I got to see all five of the shorts and they were all first rate. I’m so proud of Susan Chinsen for starting BAAFF—it’s a fantastic festival that highlights and encourages the creativity of Asian Americans in the film industry.
Last year a film I was in, Almost Perfect by Bertha Bay-Sa Pan, was featured at BAAFF. This year the film I’m in, Descendants of the Past, Ancestors of the Future by Albert M. Chan, was presented as part of the Shorts Program. I’m always delighted to support the writers and directors behind the films I’m in, as well as Susan and BAAFF.
BAAFF: What were your experiences like filming Descendants of the Past? Why should Asians and non-Asians see this film?
CHEN: I had a great time making the film. Albert M. Chan is a very gifted writer/director/producer. He has a keen eye for all aspects of a film. He knew exactly what the film needed. He’s kind, organized and hard- working, and he’s also a wonderful actor. The rest of the cast and crew were professional and terrific to be around. I am very sad that our Emmy-nominated cinematographer, Cira Fellina Bolla, passed away before she could celebrate her terrific work with us.
Everyone should see this film because it provides an opportunity for viewers to re-examine their own family histories and beliefs, and the influence of their ancestors on their own lives. I imagine that many Asian Americans will relate deeply to the family traditions depicted in the film.
BAAFF: What are the challenges Asian American actors/filmmakers face today? What advice do you have for aspiring actors/writers/filmmakers?
CHEN: Asian American actors and filmmakers, like many other minority groups, face discrimination. There are many roles on TV and in films and theater that could have been played by Asians but they were never considered. I just saw an important play written by Han Ong, Chairs and a Long Table, that deals with how Asian American actors suffer in this business.
Personally, I have been very fortunate. I received an Emmy nomination for my first professional job, the first CBS Playhouse Special called The Final War of Olly Winter, and a Golden Globe nomination for my second film, The Hawaiians. This opened a lot of doors for me and I got cast for parts that were not written specifically for an Asian woman. I got hired for roles called “Val” or “Janice” and the producers would sometimes add a Chan or Chow as the character’s last name. But my case was definitely not the norm and, sadly, Hollywood has made little, if any, progress in that regard. As I have gotten older, I have been cast only if the name on the script is an Asian one, and those names are few and far between.
My advice is to make sure that you’re absolutely passionate about being an actor/writer/filmmaker. If you have any doubts, find another path because this business is extremely difficult and so dependent on luck, timing and other factors out of your control. But I would advise anyone to at least give this profession a try so that they would never have to look back and regret.
BAAFF: Why are Asian American films important? Why is this a unique voice in cinema and TV?
CHEN: Asian American films are important because this is a multicultural, multi-religious, multiracial country and Asian American voices are very important in contributing to the total richness of America.
BAAFF: What are some of your upcoming projects we should keep a watch for?
CHEN: I have been giving a lecture, Heroes of History: Legacy of My Chinese Family, which is accompanied by more than 150 slides. It is about three generations of my mother’s family and their contributions to Chinese history.
I have written four songs, which have recently been performed in festivals in New York and Vermont:
This Tree, a Christmas song (lyrics by Ruth Wolff)
Eight Nights, a Hanukkah song (lyrics by YiLing Chen-Josephson)
Words Never Said (lyrics by Diane Winslow)
Mother Life (music and lyrics by me)
I have written a number of Chinese fairy tales for children that I am currently shopping around to publishers.
I am writing a half-hour TV comedy/drama about a half-Chinese, half-Jewish family. Its working title is Hyphenated.
Thank you Tina! We look forward to following all that you do!
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